1st Edition

Last Stands from the Alamo to Benghazi How Hollywood Turns Military Defeats into Moral Victories

By Frank Wetta, Martin Novelli Copyright 2017
    160 Pages
    by Routledge

    160 Pages
    by Routledge

    Last Stands from the Alamo to Benghazi examines how filmmakers teach Americans about the country’s military past. Examining twenty-three representative war films and locating them in their cultural and military landscape, the authors argue that Hollywood’s view of American military history has evolved in two phases. The first phase, extending from the very beginnings of filmmaking to the Korean War, projected an essential patriotic triumphalism. The second phase, from the Korean and Vietnam Wars to the present, reflects a retreat from consensus and reflexive patriotism. In describing these phases, the authors address recurring themes such as the experience of war and combat, the image of the American war hero, race, gender, national myths, and more. With helpful film commentaries that extend the discussion through popular movie narratives, this book is essential for anyone interested in American military and film history.

    Introduction: “The Very Thought of Losing”

    1 “Do this Mean What I Think it Do?”

    John Wayne’s Alamo (1960)

    John Lee Hancock’s Alamo (2004)

    2 “Are You Calling Me a Liar?”

    They Died With Their Boots On (1941)

    Little Big Man (1970)

    3 Alamos of the Pacific

    Wake Island (1942)

    Bataan (1943)

    Back to Bataan (1945)

    They Were Expendable (1945)

    Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)

    4 “We’re Supposed to be Angels of Mercy”

    Corregidor (March, 1943)

    So Proudly We Hail! (September, 1943)

    Cry “Havoc!” (November, 1943)

    5 “The Misfortunes of My Retreat”

    Northwest Passage (1940)

    Gung Ho! The Story of Carlson’s Makin Island Raiders (1943)

    6 Planes Roaring, Voices Singing

    Command Decision (1948)

    Twelve O’Clock High (1949)

    7 Pork Chop Hill is in North Korea Now

    The Steel Helmet (1951)

    Pork Chop Hill (1959)

    8 “Go Tell the Americans”

    Go Tell the Spartans (1978)

    We Were Soldiers (2002)

    9 “Narrowing the Aperture”

    Black Hawk Down (2001)

    Lone Survivor (2014)

    13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)

    Conclusion: “It is Here that We Lie . . .”


    Further Reading



    Frank J. Wetta is Lecturer, Department of History and Senior Fellow, Center for History, Politics, and Policy, Kean University. He is co-author of The Long Reconstruction: The Post-Civil War South in History, Film, and Memory (2014).

    Martin A. Novelli teaches film and history at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia and at Kean University. He is co-author of The Long Reconstruction: The Post-Civil War South in History, Film, and Memory (2014).

    "Last Stands is an ideal entry for readings in filmography and military history. Wetta and Novelli’s exploration of how 'last stands' have been depicted in America’s—and thus the world’s—visual culture demonstrates how in the modern age film not only advances historical interpretations, but amends them to accord with transformations in the larger culture. The authors’ methods and standards of judgment for this wide variety of films can be easily adapted for an understanding of how other film genres fit in with the course of modern history."

    - Roger Spiller, author of An Instinct for War: Scenes from the Battlefields of History (2007).

    "Wetta and Novelli offer an innovative theme to thoughtfully analyze American war films. The authors reach insightful conclusions that will inform students while provoking historians and film scholars to reconsider these selected movies."

    -Joseph G. Dawson III, Professor of History, Texas A&M University